I’ve come up with what I think is a pretty good idea for an adventure setting. It would take advantage of many of the older pulp fantasy memes that are seeing such a resurgence. R.E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc. I’ve got a number of forks in the road to think through, though, and I would welcome any input from those folks who might be reading the blog.
The core of the setting would be an ancient lost city; plenty of scope for dungeon crawl and semi-wilderness adventuring. The environment would be tropical; mountain, marsh, and jungle. Lost cities belong in jungles, surrounded by steaming stinking swamps in which weird stone idols lay littering the landscape at odd intervals. The chief bad guys would be serpent-men and ape-men; fighting both each other for thousands of years. Neither the serpent-men nor the ape-men will have been the builders of the lost city itself, although over the centuries both have occupied it and seen their civilizations crumble away, so they both now dwell in the jungle and swamps. The city bears the marks of their habitation, but as one goes deeper into its catacombs and further beneath its foundations, signs of the builders are still to be seen. There might be smaller outlying ruins as well, and of course the current cities of the ape-men and serpent-men could be points of interest as well.
I think this offers a lot in terms of an adventuring milieu. It would be run as a complete sandbox; no story arc or adventure path (although there would be story threads that the players could and doubtless would involve themselves in, they would in no way be mandatory– the fun part is that the players today so often don’t realize that). There are some questions, though.
The origins of the player characters are a big one. Do I include a “new” (say, 30-50 year old) colony town on the shore? Set up, perhaps, to service ships on a trade route, or as a source of rare foodstuffs and lumber. Or do I make humanity more removed, making a trip to the jungle from the player characters’ home base a regular event? That has the bonus of adding logistical problems to the players’ list of worries. Or could it be even more esoteric; the player characters know of a magical gate or other MacGuffin that allows them to travel to and from the jungle from their home base hundreds of miles or even worlds away? Each has plusses and minuses.
I’m also very seriously thinking about moving away from 1E for this campaign. It is without a doubt the game system with which I am most familiar; I could wing an entire campaign off the top of my head for months if I needed to. But as I discussed in another post on this vague subject, I also want to get away from some of the standard A/D&D cliches. This will be an all humans campaign, for one thing. Dwarves and elves belong in a setting that’s more northern European in nature. Anything that’s not a human is a threat to the supremacy of man and deserving of extermination (at least, that’s how the players will begin the game; time will tell if I can work in some moral ambiguity on the subject). I also want to toss alignment. “Planes of existence” will be completely inaccessible, and any “otherworldly” beings will be quite literally so– think Yag-kosha from R.E. Howard’s “Tower of the Elephant” or many of the Lovecraftian beings. Gone will be the medieval-type demons and devils, in will be more unknowable horrors befitting the environment of foetid swamp and trackless jungle.
I need something with a very quick but workable combat system. Low magic will be the rule, so something that allows for a lot of action is necessary. I don’t think I need clerics as a separate class; fighter, magic-user, and thief should be sufficient, and I’m iffy on the thief. “Guy who relies on his body” and “guy who relies on his brain” might just be enough of an archetype for me (that would, of course, require a developed skill system).
Dare I try something like this with a no magic setting? It bears considering. Anything that is purported to be “magical” would in fact be technological in nature. Titanium-iridium swords that make mincemeat out of opponents’ armor, for instance. That might fit in with the ruined city concept. “Magicians” would be those who had figured out how to use the stuff (if they exist as a group at all; this might be my key to getting rid of classes altogether). But I definitely don’t want a post-apocalyptic vibe; I’m thinking more of the degenerate sleestak from the original Land of the Lost (with their magical-seeming pylons) than Gamma World.
I could use GURPS to pull this off. It would probably give me a good opportunity/excuse to learn how to do Savage Worlds. I’ve always liked the idea of Arms Law/Claw Law (that’s what Iron Crown Enterprises’ Rolemaster system was called before it was called Rolemaster), but I’m not really conversant with it. Lejendary Adventure has an obvious appeal, and is skill based rather than based on classes, but I’m afraid it’s too dependent on its magic system to work, or at least for me to hack it so that it’s not present. Of course, I could just go back to OD&D, take out the magic and the elves/dwarves/hobbits/etc. and insert a skill system but I’m afraid it might be so much work that I might as well just write my own system.
So, whatcha think?